Canadian ski jumper Katie Willis makes the trek from the Poma lift to the top of the HS 75 while training at Howelsen Hill on Thursday. The Canadian national team arrived in Steamboat Springs earlier this week to take advantage of the facilities for training. In the next two weeks, the team will bring three different groups to Steamboat.

Photo by John F. Russell

Canadian ski jumper Katie Willis makes the trek from the Poma lift to the top of the HS 75 while training at Howelsen Hill on Thursday. The Canadian national team arrived in Steamboat Springs earlier this week to take advantage of the facilities for training. In the next two weeks, the team will bring three different groups to Steamboat.

Canadians' journey for early snow leads to Steamboat

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Nordic skiers open World Cup in Finland

American Nordic combined skiers Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong were in Kuusamo, Finland, on Friday for the opening World Cup of the 2007-08 season.

Results from the two-jump, 15-kilometer individual Gundersen-style event were not available at press time because Kuusamo is nine hours ahead of Steamboat Springs. But the results will be available online at www.steamboatpilo... this morning.

On Thursday, Spillane posted jumps of 128 meters in the first and third rounds. He flew 131 meters on his second jump of the training round.

Teammate Demong posted jumps of 132, 130 and 126 meters in the training rounds.

On Saturday, the Nordic combined athletes will compete in a one-jump, 7.5-kilometer sprint event in Kuusamo. The World Cup will then head to Trondheim, Norway.

— Gregor Linsig and the members of the Canadian women's special jumping team drove more than 22 hours to get to Steamboat Springs.

But despite all the miles inside a van, the Canadians felt right at home on Howelsen Hill's steep pitches when they started training here last week.

"We came here because Steamboat always seems to have reliable snow," Canadian jumper Katie Willis said while training Thursday. "We will be in Norway next week, so we needed to get back on the jumping hill and back to where we were at the end of last summer."

Back in Calgary, snow is scarce and the sport of ski jumping doesn't seem to be a priority, according to the coaches and athletes who have been waiting for their own jumping facilities to open the past few weeks.

"The women's World Cup season starts next week," Linsig said. "We couldn't wait any longer."

Luckily for the Canadians, the HS 75 jump in Steamboat opened Nov. 11, and Todd Wilson and the city of Steamboat Springs have made it a point to open Howelsen's doors to the entire ski jumping community.

"This is why we have made all these improvements at Howelsen," Wilson said. "We want to see these jumps getting used."

Wilson is thrilled that Steamboat has become a regular early-season stop for the U.S. Ski Team, the Canadians and clubs across the United States looking for a place to train.

In the past few weeks, Howelsen has hosted the U.S. Nordic Combined and the U.S. Women's Special Jumping teams. It also hosted a group of development skiers hoping to bring the men's special jumping team back to a national team fold.

"The Canadians got right back to me after I called and said they wanted to come," Wilson said. "They told me they didn't have snow in Calgary. I worked out the lodging, and now they are here. It's a good situation for everyone involved."

Wilson said most of the teams pay a fee to use the Howelsen facility, but that it is not a money-making deal for the city or the Winter Sports Club. The athletes that come to Steamboat pitch in to help get the jumps ready for the season. The fees the teams pay also helps cover some of the cost of snowmaking and getting the hills ready. The U.S. Ski Team is the only team that doesn't have to pay to use the facility.

Steamboat's reputation as a generous host and its ability to provide great early season snow has made it a regular stop for teams in North America. Wilson said the HS 75 hill is the perfect jump because it appeals to a wide range of abilities, and it's a good starting point for elite-level jumpers to work out their kinks.

Steamboat will host the Winter Start jumping and Nordic combined competition Dec. 15. Early-season training is expected to taper off during the next few weeks as athletes move into their competitive seasons. Travel and scheduling will mean a less diverse crowd at the base of Howelsen's jumps, but several top-level competitions will draw athletes from all over the region to Howelsen this winter.

- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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